Are Smelly Lunch Bans The Sign Of A Healthy Office Culture?

Are Smelly Lunch Bans The Sign Of A Healthy Office Culture?

Our poll earlier in the week about eating breakfast in the office made two things clear: lots of Lifehacker readers do it, and there’s a small minority who object to it because they think it saps productivity or they can’t stand the sound of people crunching cereal. Presumably people in the latter category work in a company with less pronounced rules than BHP, which bans the consumption of any food deemed smelly on the premises and doesn’t allow people to eat at their PCs.

Picture by stuart_spivack

BHP’s policies are outlined in an article at the Sydney Morning Herald, which also reveals bans on the use of iPads or leaving Post-It notes stuck to monitors. In part, they reflect an itinerant workplace where hotdesking is the norm. You don’t want to come into an unfamiliar office and discover spaghetti sauce all over your keyboard. Stepping away from your PC to eat lunch is also a good idea, but not always practical if you’ve got an insane deadline to meet.

Good manners would also suggest that not eating anchovy-laden pizza in the office is wise, but the need for a formal policy doubtless varies depending on the environment. Does your office have fixed rules for this sort of thing, or does it rely on people doing the right thing? Tell us in the comments.

No smelly lunches: BHP’s strict staff rules [SMH]


  • I’ve worked at a few BHP offices and you need to understand the full context. They usually provide well fitted out lunch areas with TV / papers, coffee etc segregated from the office main so there is no incentive to eat at a desk. Some offices even have power nap rooms. Very forward thinking in many ways.

  • Considering half our office is Indian, if we implemented that law it would be considered racist. Every lunch is curry. Lucky I like the smell of curry.

    My question:

    Is it good manners to speak languages other than English in the workplace?

    • As the only girl and the only person in a team who wasn’t Indian I couldn’t help but be paranoid that they were talking about me everytime they weren’t speaking English on the office floor.

      I think in the lunch room it’s fine but not in the office itself.

    • No it isn’t. My previous employer actually had guidelines in place that stated that English was the official language within the company, and had disciplinary action that could be taken should there be complaints of staff speaking languages other than English.

    • That question has a whiff of potential racism. I can easily think of contexts where it would be fine: talking to family, or a call centre handling non-English speakers. Not good manners to use it to deliberately exclude colleagues, but that could happen mono-lingually over email too.

  • This is hilarious. I had just been discussing not 45 mins ago with my collegaue the need for a hot food ban in our office. We’re about to shift into a nice new space and I’d like it to be food smell free.

    I think he was quite taken aback 🙂

  • I think we are stepping outside the bounds of what an employer should be dictating to an employee.

    This is not a question of work safety or OH&S but a question of personal preference.

    I have also worked in a ‘hotdesk’ type situation with constantly moving staff etc and I can see the point regarding certain practices, but we are heading down the slippery slope (to my eye’s too far already) of our employer running our lives.

    We have a ‘no hot food policy’ in parts of our office, mainly due to a lack of responsibility of people, and hence they are punished for it. To blanket everyone with a rule like this is ridiculous, I much prefer to eat at my desk, catch up on my tech news (and wink wink lifehacker) as I don’t have time anywhere else.

    Spending an hour in the lunch room became a waste of time with constant questions regarding work…

    Anyway, its about time people went back to trusting to common sense rather then knee-jerk rules… if someone has a smelly lunch, tell them and ask them to stop, be a friggen grown up about it. If your one of those people that brings hot lunch then be considerate… doesn’t seem too hard to me.

  • I don’t have a problem with anyone eating anything they want at their desks, and I personally frequently do. Over odorous foods aren’t appreciated by anyone however; nor is making an unreasonable amount of noise while eating – but I think avoiding both are common courtesy.

  • When I first read the article, I thought “smelly lunches: that means sardines and popcorn.” I can see why those might be banned. But then I read another article in which it emerged that they were mostly talking about curry. Curry isn’t all that smelly (not compared with sardines and microwave popcorn, anyway), and I find the smell of curry quite pleasant.

  • I hate the smell of other people’s food, and the sound of people eating makes my skin crawl so badly I usually need to either leave the room or put on headphone so I can’t hear them. But I would absolutely HATE the idea of my workplace banning eating food at your desks. It’s just a draconian practice that should be remembered as one of those stupid things we used to do, like smoke in the office or be openly sexist towards women ect, times are changing, if companies want us to be working longer and “smarter” then they can’t keep policies like this in place. If you want me to not eat my food at my desk, ok, but that report you’re after will be there an hour later now.

    Also what I’ve read about the head honcho of BHP he sounds like an asshole. Self proclaimed “neat freak”. I tell you what I’ve met a lot of people who are very smart and very good at their jobs and very approachable and every other aspect you could think of to describe someone’s work ethic and abilities, and you know what, how clean their desks were NEVER mattered. If someone is tidy by nature, good for them, if someone is messy by nature good for them. If someone else imposes their desire to be tidy onto those who are not naturally tidy, well that’s just wasteful, you are making them waste their time acting in a way that is not natural for them.

  • BHP also don’t have any microwaves or anything of that sort in the breakout rooms so there’s no way to heat up the food!

    I personally think it’s quite draconian. The only way to eat a hot lunch is to go down to the food court, so you can’t have left overs.

    And it’s very limiting for my vegetarian girlfriend. She’s not the salad eating sort so it leaves very few options for packed lunches.

  • Yes.

    It’s better OH&S to get out of your seat, go for a walk, stretch your legs, refresh your mind and stop annoying others, when you have your meals.

    I must say that sound is a bit weird though. Smells I can relate to but whinging about sound, well you must have a super-quiet office to begin with, I’m jealous!

  • The way I see it, if everyone is mindful of the noise and aromas their eating introduces into a close workspace and behaves considerately then a no-food-at-desks policy becomes irrelevant and shouldn’t cause anyone distress by being in place. After all, the policy is only for the handful who perhaps don’t stop to think about the effect they might be having.

    I’d also say, it’s not about whether others *like* the smell or not, whether that’s curry or whatever. I quite like the smell of toasted raisin bread with butter. But if someone across the partition brings some back to their desk when I’m trying to work and focus, it becomes a distraction. At least in my experience, there’s something about the nature of the “working space” and what I’m trying to do in that space that affects how I perceive food smells.

  • I agree with Angela, even though I’m pretty bad about doing it. Sometimes it’s just the smell of food, good or not, that is distracting. If someone brings something good in, all I can think about is how hungry I am and how I want to eat. I like eating at my desk though because I eat at random hours and don’t like to eat alone and I check lifehacker while I eat 🙂

  • I personally don’t mind the smell of most “exotic” foods that people bring into the office. Most of the time it’s quite pleasant and enticing and often sparks up conversation and if you’re lucky even dinner invitations! Which if you ask me, can only be good for an office environment. 😀

    What does, however, really irritate me is when these foods are consumed with total disregard or respect for others, i.e. chewing with open mouths for everyone to see & hear.
    I know it’s an issue of culture & upbringing but the education I received when growing up was widely centred around the fact that people in general don’t like to see or hear the food sloshing around in your mouth as you chew it. It’s just not “good manners”.
    But when you work in an “open-plan” office where there are no partitions and co-workers sit within metres of each other, it becomes a real issue. It becomes even more frustrating when these persons do this everyday, several times a day.

    How do you tell someone that the sound they make when they eat is somewhat akin to the sound made by a herd of feral pigs who’ve just come across a huge pile of fetid decaying slop?

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